This year I needed to pass an emissions test to renew my car registration. My re-registration month is July, but I didn’t manage to get into a testing location during that month. There were question marks in my mind about whether I would pass. I drive a 2003 VW station wagon, and it’s lemony – though I would describe it at this point as a beater, not a junker. It’s at 120,000-odd miles and still going strong, but it’s fussy and needs love.
Anyway, I wanted to take it to the shop before I did the emissions test, but things happened and I kept forgetting, and the months passed. A couple weeks ago, the car started coughing and farting, and so I finally took it in for a tuneup. It needed a new exhaust hose and a few other things, and an oil change and new filters. Also a front headlight had been out for quite a while.
So I got all that stuff fixed up, and today I finally made it to the emissions testing location.
Which is to say, for 4.5 months I was driving around all over the place with an expired registration and a broken headlight. Also my car is filthy. It’s keyed and banged up, dinged by a thousand times by the moms and kids who are the primary denizens of my early-childhood world. The trunk, well-visible to the outside world, is filled with a disheveled pile of reusable bags. I am the bag lady. There’s barely room to put anything in the rear because of the bags. Either that, or the pile is hiding something underneath, something nefarious and illegal.
I pulled in for the emissions test today, at a rapid-oil-change business near my home. Three very professional men were staffing the business, and they happened to be black. Unlike Tomi Lahren, I see race, because it is on the face of people, so I noticed they were black. On the other hand, it wouldn’t normally be a significant data point to me in this setting. But the way black men are sometimes treated during traffic stops has been heavy on my mind for the last 4.5 months. During which I was never once pulled over. So today I took more notice of it than usual.
As I waited for the emissions test results, I wondered if these well-mannered, professional, pleasant men had any particular thoughts when they saw someone like me come in — a mostly white-looking (though perhaps they would spot my ethnicity), middle-aged woman, driving around with a long-expired registration, having obviously paid no price for it except a ten-dollar late fee.
Do they look at me and shake their heads, thinking “white privilege in action”? Are they indifferent? Do they feel angry?
I don’t know. I only know that I would deserve that.
Because I got away with it. I was never pulled over. No police car ever tailed me suspiciously. I never felt unsafe. I mean, I didn’t want to pay a ticket, so I worried about that. And I worried how Jesse might react, what with her anxiety, if I was pulled over with her in the car. But I never worried that I would be shot or arrested or humiliated or killed because of my expired registration.
And I admit, I was in no hurry to renew the registration or get that headlight fixed. It was a little bit of a personal social experiment. I kept waiting and waiting as the months passed, to be pulled over. Didn’t I deserve to be? Would a cop ever bother to run the plates on a station wagon piloted by my pudgy cheeks, fair skin, and graying very straight hair? After I parked somewhere, would a cop ever wander over innocently to look in the window of my filthy car, full of bags hiding who-kn0ws-what, and find an excuse to search it?